Fernando Vargas finds a way to dislike even his nicest opponents.
"I put a [negative] face on a fighter even if he hasn't done anything to me," said the International Boxing Federation junior middleweight champion. "I am an angry fighter in the ring."
The 22-year-old Vargas (20-0, 18 knockouts) will carry that ire into Saturday night's unification bout (154 pounds) against World Boxing Association super welterweight champion Felix Trinidad (38-0, 31 KOs), to be televised on TVKO pay per view from the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.
The site is the same as last fall's welterweight battle when Trinidad, of Puerto Rico, edged Mexican-American Oscar De La Hoya.
Vargas-Trinidad promises to be another fistic clash of Latino culture, such as Puerto Rican Wilfredo Gomez's knockout of Mexican Carlos Zarate in a 1978 battle of unbeatens.
Vargas' favorites are the ones taken by Mexicans: Salvador Sanchez's knockout of Gomez, Jose Ramirez's knockout of Edwin Rosario, and Julio Cesar Chavez's decision over Hector "Macho" Camacho.
"Mexicans always come out on top," said Vargas. "There are going to be a lot of crazy Mexicans in Vegas."
A 1996 Olympian, Vargas took 56 seconds to knock out 33-fight veteran Jorge Morales in Vargas' 1997 pro debut. Yory Boy Campas was 72-2 with 62 knockouts when Vargas, then 21, stopped him in seven rounds to become the youngest junior middleweight champ in history.
Vargas' 11th-round stoppage of Raul Marquez, who entered at 30-1 (20 KOs), was his 17th straight knockout, tying the record set by undisputed light heavyweight champ Roy Jones.
Ike Quartey (34-1, 29 KOs coming in) had lost only a disputed, 12-round split decision to De La Hoya, but he was outclassed, and nearly knocked out in the second round of his loss to Vargas on April 15.
"After the Ike Quartey fight," Vargas said, "people knew that I was for real."
Vargas comes off an impressive, fourth-round knockout of Ross Thompson (24-4-1, 16 KOs) on Aug. 26, three times flooring a man who had never been down or out, and who, at 173 pounds, out-weighed Vargas by 10 pounds.
After his third knockdown of Thompson, the result of his second brilliant, one-two combination, Vargas spit on his fallen rival as retaliation for the loser's slapping Vargas in the mouth at the pre-fight news conference. Also at the news conference, Vargas' left hook knocked Thompson off the press stage.
"Ross Thompson wanted to make it a street fight, so we did. I'm a street kid that made it, plain and simple," said Vargas, whose two sons are 3 and less than a year old.
"I never knew what it was to have a father. I thank God every day for putting gloves on my hands, putting me in position to be the good father I never had," said Vargas. "I try hard to be a good father, I really do."
Still facing assault charges from an incident last fall, Vargas said, "I have a temper, but I've been able to tone it down. I don't think I'll ever get as mad as I was against Thompson. But the ring's the only place I can think."
During a post-fight interview in the ring after the Thompson fight, Vargas called Trinidad "a great human being" and "the nicest guy in the world," but added, "it's going to be like two lions fighting over two steaks - our two belts."
A lot has changed since that statement. Vargas has learned Trinidad has likened him to more of a kitten, and reportedly has a stuffed one hanging in effigy during training.
"Here I am giving him all the respect in the world, but they started disrespecting me left and right," said Vargas. "I think it is genuine when I say I want to hurt this man for what he has said. I am ready for whatever Trinidad has to offer on Dec. 2."
Vargas is considered the underdog to Trinidad, a two-fisted puncher whose seven-year, five-month reign as a champion ranks as one of the longest in present-day boxing.
"People say I can't do it because of my inexperience, but Felix Trinidad only fights one way," Vargas said. "If he's so experienced, why did he follow Oscar De La Hoya around the ring the same way the whole time and get slapped around for 12 rounds? How come he never cut off the ring?"
Trinidad has been knocked down seven times in his career, all in the second round. Two fighters who floored him, Anthony Stephens and Campas, were knockout victims of Vargas in his 13th and 15th victories, respectively.
"Trinidad was knocked down [by] fighters that were not half the caliber fighter I am," Vargas said. "Why am I not going to be able to knock him down again?"